The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was meant to be a small and inexpensive naval vessel able to operate close to enemy shores. It was meant to do things that would otherwise imperil a more expensive destroyer. In an earlier post, I questioned why we were building ships that were undeniably weaker than destroyers and yet expecting them to go close to enemy coastlines. Unfortunately, it looks like the LCS is an expensive flop. This Time article says that it is underarmed, not survivable in a hostile environment (isn’t that important for a warship?), and costs two times more than originally planned.
One thing about the Pentagon is that, while it almost always overpays for its equipment, it usually ensures that it has the best stuff on the block. The F-22 fighter jet may also be a super-expensive near-flop, but when it works, it is the most capable warplane ever built. The LCS, on the other hand, which is actually two separate classes of ship, neither of which appear to be worth anything, is less heavily armed than other comparably-sized foreign vessels. The USS Freedom, the lead ship of the Freedom-class LCS, has developed numerous cracks in its hull. That is not good in a boat meant to float in water. The USS Independence, the lead ship in the Independence-class LCS, has suffered from serious corrosion problems. Yet somehow, we are paying much more on each copy than other governments do on equivalent ships. How does this happen?
Neither ship, apparently, is built to actual warship standards, only commercial grade standards. Both classes of ship have also suffered from quality control problems. Why is the Navy buying craft that are known to be weaker, less survivable, and more costly than any others that are similar to it? At root, it may be that too much money fails to to focus the mind, and that perhaps the Navy does not fear enough the very real possibility that it will be stuck with a large complement of substandard warships.
The U.S. Navy has lately shot back over the Time critique of the LCS found on the Time website last week. Here is the response of an official U.S Navy spokesman taking on the points made in the first article . From this response, it appears that the ships are now being built to a higher-than-commercial standard. Originally, however, it had not been planned to build the LCS this way. Read both of them and be then decide whether the case for the LCS is still viable.
My primary question is why U.S. equipment always seems to cost so much more than the equivalent item in foreign inventories. If it is a matter of consistently pushing the technological envelope, then I can understand that. But if it is because of wasteful spending practices, which is a known and longstanding problem for the Pentagon, then a serious and thoroughgoing revision of American procurement practices is needed.